Toni Morrison's Home begins with a short chapter in the first person, narrated by a man named Frank Money. (Note that Frank's name is not mentioned until Chapter 2.) In vivid, poetic language, he reminisces about a day in his childhood when he and his little sister saw two stallions fight in a field. “They rose up like men,” he says, describing how the horses stood on their hind legs to fight each other.
As Frank retells this story, he explains that he and his sister were not supposed to be in that field. The area was fenced in, and there were signs telling them to keep out. However, they were little, and they were tempted by a hole they found under the fence. When they crawled through, they were amazed to see horses standing up, full of dignity and violence:
Their raised hooves crashing and striking, their manes tossing back from wild white eyes.
As the children watched, one of the stallions won the fight and rounded up the mares and colts for himself. The other stallion ran away.
Frank seems to enjoy remembering the horses, but his story soon takes a dark turn. On their way home, he and his sister saw a group of men pushing a dead body in a wheelbarrow. The children froze, hiding themselves in the tall grass. As they watched, the men dumped the body into a hole. They didn’t get a good look at the dead man, except for one “black foot with its creamy pink and mud-streaked sole.” Frank, who is African American, does not explicitly describe the men who were doing the burying, but he implies that they were white. They knocked the black foot into the hole, filled in the grave, and left.
For hours, Frank and his sister remained in their hiding place. She shook with fear and hid her face while he, who was four years older, tried to remain stoic. Not until darkness did he judge it safe for them to make their way back home. When they arrived, they thought they might be whipped for staying out so late, but the adults were too busy to take any notice of them. “Some disturbance had their attention,” Frank says. The reader is left to guess whether or not this “disturbance” has anything to do with the dead body the children saw in the field.
As the chapter ends, Frank addresses a writer, presumably Toni Morrison. He says that she cannot understand his story, and she is sure to get it wrong. He claims that he forgot about the dead body shortly after he saw it. For years, all he remembered were the stallions, which were “beautiful” and “brutal…like men.”
In Chapter 2, Frank Money’s story resumes in the third person. Now he is an adult, tied to a bed in a mental hospital. It is late at night, and he is pretending to be asleep, hoping to trick the doctors into skipping his medication and loosening his restraints so that he can escape.
Frank is determined to get out of the hospital, even if he has to use violence to do so. He needs to travel to Georgia and find his little sister. According to a note he received a few days ago, she is in some kind of trouble, and she will die if he does not rescue her.
As he waits for his chance to run, Frank ponders the problem of clothes. He has a pair of pants and an army jacket, but no shoes. Walking in the snow with no shoes could be a problem; police may suspect him of vagrancy and haul him back to the hospital or to jail.
A couple of hours before sunrise, Frank manages to get out of the hospital. He runs, barefoot and freezing, to the AME Zion Church, where a poor black reverend helps him. Frank cannot remember why he got tossed in a mental hospital, but he says that he probably did something violent. The reverend gives Frank food and a pair of galoshes, the only shoes in the house that will fit him, so he can travel on. The reverend’s family also provides seventeen dollars, all the money they have, to pay for a part of Frank’s journey.
On the bus and train trips that follow, Frank spends most of his time thinking about the panicky and sometimes violent episodes he has occasionally experienced since serving in the Korean War. Around his girlfriend, Lily, he does not struggle with them so much. Now that he has left Lily to go find his sister, he is not sure he can keep himself sane. He resolves to drink very little and to try to control himself. As he thinks all this, he repeatedly catches glimpses of a small man wearing a zoot suit who does not seem to be real.
Frank’s journey is difficult. He is treated...
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Chapter 3 is another first-person scene from Frank’s childhood. Back when Frank was four years old, he, his family, and his neighbors were kicked out of their homes in Bandera County, Texas. They were made to leave purely because of their black skin. Some of the neighbors had trucks, and they were able to take a great deal of what they owned—but they still lost the crops and animals that had made up their livelihoods.
Frank’s family had no truck, so they took only what they could fit into a wheelbarrow. They set out walking toward Georgia, where they had family. When a neighbor offered them seats in his car, they had to leave even the wheelbarrow behind. Frank’s mother cried about losing so many possessions, but she was pregnant and knew she had to get off her feet in order to save the baby. They lost everything but what they could hold on their laps: a small basket of clothes, the reins of a horse, and a few tools.
Frank remembers that the bottom sole of one of his shoes was falling off during their migration. It flapped constantly as he walked until his father took off one of his own shoelaces and tied it down. Frank remembers the time as one of the most difficult of his life: “Talk about tired. Talk about hungry.” He struggles to describe the paltry meals he ate at food pantries during the period. Addressing the writer of his story, he says, “Write about that, why don’t you?” His tone suggests frustration, as if he thinks the writer is missing the details that matter most.
Continuing with his memories, Frank explains that his mother heard an unusual name in a food pantry on the journey. This name, Ycidra, was given to Frank’s little sister a few weeks later. Ycidra, called Cee for short, was born in a church basement. By tradition, her parents waited nine days before officially naming her.
The thought of names makes Frank remember that he was named for his uncle. His father was named Luther, his mother Ida. Their surname, Money, has always been ridiculous because they never had any.
At the end of the chapter, Frank suggests that the writer of his story does not know what it means to feel too hot. That summer during his family’s forced migration, he felt heat too strong and deep for words. “Trees give up. Turtles cook in their shells. Describe that if you know how,” he says—and he seems to doubt that she can.
Chapter 4 returns to the third person, but it tells Cee’s story instead of Frank’s. As the chapter begins, Cee is sitting in a cold bath in a small apartment in Atlanta, thinking back on her life. It has not been very good.
After Cee's family got kicked out of their home in Texas, they moved to Lotus, Georgia. For the years that followed, they lived in the home of Cee's step-grandmother, Lenore Money. During that period, Frank and Cee spent their days in the care of Lenore, who hated them—especially Cee. According to Lenore, a person born on the road during a time of strife was destined to grow up worthless.
Frank was the saving grace in Cee’s childhood. He loved and protected her when all the adults were either too busy or too bitter to care. But he protected her so well that she never leaned to take care of herself.
After three years with Lenore, Cee's parents and uncle were able to rent a place of their own. They were still poor, but they now had a garden and chickens, which gave them something to share with the neighbors. All of the neighbors shared with each other except Lenore, who preferred to hoard what was hers.
Now, as Cee splashes in the bath and reflects on her life, she wishes she had had more childhood experiences with people outside of her family and neighbors. If she had been allowed to meet more people or to go to school in the next town, she might have known enough not to fall for the first unfamiliar boy she met. But she knew nothing, and shortly after Frank went off to serve in the Korean War, she ran away with a boy named Prince.
Prince and Cee borrowed Lenore's car and left Lotus. As it turned out, this car was the whole reason Prince was interested in Cee. Eventually he stole it and abandoned her. Now Cee is alone in Atlanta, Georgia, and she is too scared to go back to Lotus and face Lenore’s wrath. Cee has a dishwashing job, but it will not cover her expenses, and her brother is not around to give her advice. What she needs is a second job, or a better job. Otherwise she cannot make it on her own.
When Cee hears about a job opening for an assistant to a doctor, she immediately decides to apply. She gets the job and thinks it is wonderful. She gets to spend her days writing notes about patients and admiring the way Dr. Scott treats the sick even if they are black and poor.
Cee thinks her new employer is a hero. She sees that he owns many books on eugenics, but she does not know that eugenics involves the manipulation of human breeding, sometimes by sterilizing people without their consent. Cee simply assumes that eugenics is something wonderful, and that her life is finally looking up.
In Chapter 5, Frank describes his feelings about women. He has always found it relatively easy to get women’s attention because they enjoy teasing him about his name. In childhood, his cleverness earned him the nickname Smart. He has learned that women enjoy making jokes about a poor man named Smart Money.
Frank has always loved the fragility he senses inside women. To him, a woman’s vulnerability is like “a bird’s breastbone.” He knows he could break most women “with a forefinger,” but he would never want to. When he was with Lily, he felt that her fragility climbed inside his chest and became part of him, too.
Next, Frank describes how he and Lily met. It was a few months after he returned...
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Chapter 6, another third-person chapter, tells the story of Frank’s girlfriend, Lily. She used to be a seamstress at a theater, and she reflects that the actresses there were rude, always ordering her around and referring to her as “the girl.” She did not mind this because it was a good job. She often overheard arguments between the actors and director, but she never paid much attention until her boss got arrested and the theater closed.
After losing her job, Lily began work at a dry cleaner’s. It did not pay so well, but she nevertheless managed to save enough money for a down payment on a house. She consulted a real estate agent about a house advertisement, and she was told that she could not buy the home....
(The entire section is 550 words.)
In chapter 7, another first-person chapter, Frank describes the town where he and Cee grew up. According to him, Lotus, Georgia “is the worst place in the world, worse than any battlefield.” In battle, he explains, there is something to strive for. Battle demands courage. Battle offers a chance of success.
In contrast, Lotus has never held any such opportunities. It is a place where nobody has a future. In Lotus,
there [is] no goal other than breathing, nothing to win and, save for somebody else’s quiet death, nothing to survive or worth surviving for.
During Frank’s childhood in Loutus, only his friends and his sister kept him sane. His parents were too...
(The entire section is 418 words.)
Chapter 8, a third-person chapter, tells the story of Frank and Cee’s step-grandmother, Lenore Money. As the chapter begins, Lenore reflects on Jackie, the twelve-year-old girl she has hired to help clean her house. Jackie is a fascinating creature, half-child and half-adult. In her free time, she is always climbing trees or playing ball with the other children. In her work, she is as competent as an adult. The only thing she does poorly is mopping floors, but Lenore blames her poor-quality mop for that.
Lenore wants a new mop, but her husband, Salem, will not bother to go to town and get her one. Lenore’s first husband was a better man, willing to do as she asked and also capable of earning money. He owned his own...
(The entire section is 479 words.)
In Chapter 9, a first-person chapter, Frank reflects on his experiences in Korea. He says that nobody can imagine the place, or the war he fought there, without experiencing it firsthand. Above all, the worst hardship was the cold. “Korea cold hurts,” Frank says.
According to Frank, “Battle is scary, yeah, but it’s alive.” He felt alive when he was following orders, helping his friends, and even when he was killing the enemy. None of these things required deep thought, and there was a certain comfort in that. The only task he really hated was standing guard alone outside the base. It was hard to bear the combined boredom and anxiety of keeping watch for an enemy that might never come.
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In Chapter 10, a third-person chapter, Frank boards yet another train. As he sits looking out the window, he thinks about Mike, his boyhood friend from Lotus, who died in his arms in Korea. As Mike died, he said, “Don’t tell Mama.” Frank did not think that these dying words were very manly. When he talked about the death with their mutual friend, Stuff, Frank lied and claimed that Mike died saying, “Kill the fuckers.”
The death of Mike shook Frank badly. Previously, he had always followed orders on the battlefield, but he had never acted especially brave. Now he got reckless with his own life. But it was his other friend, Stuff, who died. Stuff's arm was blown off, and he bled to death before the medics...
(The entire section is 421 words.)
In Chapter 11, a first-person chapter, Frank reflects that Cee is the only family he has left. When he was a child, she was always beside him, like “a shadow” whose presence reminded him that he existed. He asks, “Who am I without her—that underfed girl with the sad, waiting eyes?”
Frank worries that he might not be able to save Cee, just as he was unable to save Mike and Stuff in the war. He did all he could for his friends, but they died anyway. He does not want any more people to die while he sits by, unable to save them.
Frank tells himself that Cee’s safety is his responsibility. Even as a child, he always took care of her. On that day in the field when they saw the horses and then the dead...
(The entire section is 517 words.)
In Chapter 13, another third-person chapter, Frank is surprised by how “bright” he finds the town of Lotus, Georgia. The sky is blue, the yards are full of flowers, and the trees are a brilliant green. The people seem happy, laughing and making music. Lotus seems more like a paradise than the hell Frank remembers.
Frank knows that the “safety and goodwill” he feels in Lotus do not accurately reflect the realities of life there, which he knows to be hard and full of poverty. However, he decides that it is okay to enjoy the comfortable feeling while it lasts. Soon, he knows, it will be time for planting. He resolves that he will sign up to work, devoting himself to hard labor and to the problems of ordinary life....
(The entire section is 601 words.)
In Chapter 14, a first-person chapter, Frank admits that he has lied to himself and to everyone else. He has been hiding from the truth because he is ashamed of it. "I shot the Korean girl in her face,” he says. Retelling the story he first told in Chapter 9, he explains that there was no other guard by the garbage pit that day. There was only Frank. The little girl approached Frank and touched his crotch, and he was horrified to find himself aroused. He did not think; he just shot her. In hindsight, he thinks he killed the girl because he feared he would act on his desire.
In Chapter 15, a third-person chapter, Frank and Cee continue their life in Lotus. Cee is adjusting fine, but Frank, having faced up to what he...
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In Chapter 16, a third-person chapter, Cee and Frank argue. She learned how to make quilts while she was healing, and now, for some reason, Frank wants her to give up the first quilt she ever made. She refuses for a while, but he is so fixated on the idea that she gives in. As she does so, she tells herself that she will not make a habit of giving away the things she wants. “I don’t want Frank making decisions for me,” she thinks.
Carrying the quilt over his shoulder and a shovel in his hand, Frank leads the way out of Lotus. At first, Cee does not know where they are going, but eventually she recognizes the fields they visited as children. Most of the fences have fallen down, and the buildings have burned....
(The entire section is 445 words.)